They say that to be a good scientist one has to have a good imagination. I would like to think that my time spent at CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider, and at other research sites, so exercised my imagination as to prepare it for its most unexpected task, that of writing satirical books about a certain Horatio Evans.
The real Horatio was actually an uncle of mine, the memory of whose peculiar, somewhat quixotic, antics in a small town in the Swansea Valley remains with me and the family to this day. An amateur communist, his confidence, unfortunately, knew no bounds so that the political and material collateral damage he caused was sometimes stunning and always amusing.
But Horatio’s stories (there are now four) were not my first entry into writing. As a scientist I was used to, and actually enjoyed, writing reports and papers; it was only when I retired that I realised just how enjoyable the very act of writing could be. At first, I stuck to non-fiction and produced a number of books on management and leadership. These were based on the many lectures I gave on what I termed Slow Leadership, taking the name from Slow Food. The theme of the talks was the application of Zen discipline to management, leadership and one’s personal life.
I studied under a Zen master for some twenty years or so and eventually was given permission to teach basic Zen, which I did at our Buddhist retreat centre in the hills of mid-Wales, near Llandovery.
Perhaps most people think of Zen as a rather serious if not an impossibly challenging discipline, and it is in many ways. But the sure sign of any student who has made progress in the philosophy (I think of it as a philosophy tinged with religion, not vice versa) is their sense of humour. The world is suddenly a joyous place and the people in it the source of that joy.
Those of us who have lived in a Welsh community know that in spite of the hardship that the Industrial Revolution brought to the country, people not only survived but thrived by developing a secret weapon - humour. Humour is, and was, a shared culture that encircled communities like a protective cloak, keeping out the dirt, the exploitation and the sickness that the coal industry brought with it. I therefore count myself privileged to have married a Swansea Valley girl who introduced me not only to Horatio but also to his colleagues and neighbours, all of whom could cock a snoot at life with a humour that is unique to Wales. Characters as odd as those appearing in Under Milk Wood are to be found everywhere in such communities and I have made sure that Horatio’s books include their fair share.